The Arab Spring has resulted so far in a series of bloody crackdowns, one full-scale civil war, and two nations (Tunisia and Egypt) under new but non-elected, still-autocratic government. We can certainly hope that both Tunisia and Egypt will hold the elections promised to the people. Whether those elections will produce self-sustaining consensual polities, with liberal ideals and peaceful changes of government, is another question.
There is no reason to hope that “economic aid” will promote this outcome. Economic aid given for precisely the purpose of promoting liberalism and democracy has a long history; the liberal developed world has been shoveling such aid at the less-developed world since the 1950s, and its track record is poor. Without a prior commitment to the rule of law and government transparency in the recipient nations, such funds are frequently misappropriated. In fact, “economic aid” provided by illiberal investors (China, Russia, Saudi Arabia) is more likely to go to the purposes intended by the donors, because those donors are perfectly forthright about their own interests and the strings attached.
But the good news about all this is that the event described in the international media – “the G-8 pledging $40 billion to emerging Arab democracies” – is a chimera. The episode is largely an exercise in posturing and narrative-building, with the full complicity of the news media. A more accurate rendition of it would go something like this: “G-8 may borrow $10 billion more from China and co-sign at development banks to aid unspecified Arab governments; conditions, timing vague; Saudis, others make own pledge.”
It’s worth noting the disconnect here, between the daily life of the average G-8 taxpayer – full of accountability and hard realities – and the all-but-counterfactual narrative-building that characterizes many in their governments and media. The people who represent the true legacy of the West may have little voice today in the centers of power and strategic communication, but there remains an uncorrupted core, in Europe and North America and a few other outposts around the globe. History tells us we don’t have to start with more than that, to prevail in our own generation.